February 6, 2004  


Inauguration of SPEAR3, Dazzling New Light Source

By Heather Rock Woods

Aglow with satisfaction, officials dedicated SPEAR3, a brilliant new synchrotron light source at SSRL, on January 29 in a tent packed with some 850 people.

On the count of three, the ‘electrons’ leave the injection system for the SPEAR3 ‘beamline’ assisted by: (l to r) SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan; SPEAR3 Project Leader Tom Elioff; Palo Alto Mayor Bern Beecham; NIH/NCRR Health Scientist Administrator Amy Swain; NIH Protein Structure Initiative Director John Novell; Director of DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences Pat Dehmer; Stanford University President John Hennessy and SSRL Director Keith Hodgson. (Photo by Diana Rogers)

SPEAR3 generates extremely bright x-ray beams to illuminate long-kept secrets in materials science, chemistry and biology on the sub-microscopic scale.

Stanford President John Hennessy, SSRL Director Keith Hodgson and speakers from the project’s two funding agencies—the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health—symbolically started SPEAR3 by shoveling hundreds of ping-pong size balls (representing electrons) into a hopper.

The ‘electrons’ disappeared down a chute, then showed up—in a computer simulation displayed on video screens—circling the SPEAR3 ring and emitting blue streaks of synchrotron light.

After the speeches, shoveling and snacks, celebrants took tours of the real ring—a bunker of concrete one quarter kilometer around—filled with state-of-the-art shiny magnets, vacuum systems, beam pipes and 68 miles of cables.

"Today, we are celebrating several things: the successful completion of the upgrade [a complete re-build of an older light source]; the collaboration between DOE and NIH that made it happen; and most of all, we are celebrating the hundreds of staff at SLAC and SSRL who first envisioned the [project] and then worked to complete it on time and within budget," said Patricia Dehmer, Director of the Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the DOE’s Office of Science. "Once our oldest light source, SSRL is now our newest and shiniest. And its future is bright indeed."

SPEAR3, which cost $58 million, marks the first time the DOE and the NIH have joined in funding an accelerator research facility, enhancing the NIH’s long history of investments in beam lines and experiments at SSRL. About 2,000 scientists from around the country will use the machine.

"We’ve got lots of work in mind for SSRL," said John Norvell, Director of NIH’s NIGMS Protein Structure Initiative. SSRL is one of nine national centers in this initiative to elucidate the structures of thousands of proteins, including those important in medicine.

"SPEAR3 is an investment in our country’s biomedical future," said Amy Swain, a Program Director at NIH’s National Center for Research Resources.

Thirty years ago, SSRL was the first laboratory in the world to use synchrotron produced x-rays for studying matter at atomic and molecular scales. Originally built for SLAC’s particle physics program, the first SPEAR ring yielded two Nobel prizes in particle physics. The synchrotron radiation—a by-product of circling electrons—was a nuisance to particle physicists, but the far-sighted founders of SSRL realized they had the world’s most intense x-ray source and became pioneers in synchrotron techniques, technology and science.

"Among SLAC’s most important characteristics is its bold, pioneering and collaborative approach to research — a characteristic it shares with the University," Hennessy said.


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Tuesday February 03, 2004 by Emily Ball